112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

 The Duplicitous Nature of Empathy in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

Jeffery Anderson, California State University, Los Angeles

Never Let Me Go raises many pertinent questions concerning human rights especially when applied to the future of cloning. Reading NLMG in light of two competing theorists, Lynn Hunt author of Inventing Human Rights and Michel Foucault author of Discipline and Punish, exposes the largely forgotten and nebulous concept of empathy and its potential use for manipulation. NLMG redefines empathy for a new class of human, the clone, and shows empathy’s use as an ideological tool for control.


Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go has stoked the embers of a highly contentious debate over human cloning and driven literary and ethical criticism for human rights. As technologies of the body progress, many literary scholars have pointed out that human ethics have been sacrificed in cloning as depicted in NLMG. It is argued quite frequently that NLMG and other novels like it show the ethical horrors of cloning and therefore represent a “bioethical alarm” for society. This alarm, according to John Marks, is a fear or revulsion of cloning and this feeling is embodied in the literal figure of the clone. This alarm acts as a protective function for society, as Marks argues, that has brought on the “bioethical rush to ban cloning” and is seen in many recent political endeavors. Other critics, such as Leon Kass, argue that cloning represents human kind’s “unwillingness to acknowledge a debt to the past and an unwillingness to embrace the uncertainties of the future” which depicts the narcissism of “self-recreation.” Kass goes on to bemoan the claims of many humanist scholars, including Lynn Hunt, in stating, “we are repelled by the prospect of cloning human beings not because of the strangeness or novelty of the undertaking, but because we intuit and feel, immediately and without argument the violation of things we rightfully hold dear.”

Political and literary criticism of cloning, as espoused by Marks and Kass, to name a few, have contributed to a false dichotomy over cloning that is often framed by the question: What are we, as humans biologically created from two other humans, to do with them or an artificially created human? The separation of humans from clones is problematized in NLMG, which demands a more nuanced discussion than simply human rights violations or possible ethical scruples. NLMG must be examined through the lens of the largely forgotten and sometimes nebulous concepts of empathy and its predecessor sympathy and their potential use for influence and manipulation. Historically, sympathy and empathy are supposed to have been conduits for emotional consideration and understanding between human beings, but notions of “human connection” have become obscured in NLMG. An examination of empathy fills gaps in understanding for the implications of cloning left forgotten or inaccessible to liberal humanist and ideological analysis. NLMG redefines empathy for a new class of human, the clone, and in turn shows empathy’s use as an ideological tool for control while working to convey a chilling critique of human cloning.

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